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Jack and Karen will be back from Canada in
just a few more days, and I'm pretty damn
happy about that. My recent pseudo bachelorhood
has had its moments, but this solitary lifestyle
is definitely starting to wear thin.
I know a lot of you are interested in Japanese
photography, and as luck would have it, a
new mailing list has sprung up devoted to
photography in Japan. Check it out:
Thanks to Lil and Juergen for organizing it.
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It's very late (2:00 a.m.) and I just got
back from Bar Sheezie, a new local American-style
tavern. It was a good opportunity to practice
my Japanese, but it reminded once again of
how far I have to go. I could hardly understand
Although it wasn't very busy, I managed to
learn a few new expressions from some of
the local factory workers. I heard some things
that I've never heard before, not exactly
slang, but more like 'common' Japanese.
One of the most frustrating things about
learning Japanese is all of the politeness
levels. In a way, it's like learning four
or five different languages all at the same
Take for example the phrase, 'Shall we go
to the bar for a drink?' You have your super-polite
Japanese to be used for people such as business
superiors and customers (e.g., bar e nomi
ni irasshaimasen ka), your standard polite
Japanese for educated peers (e.g., bar e
nomi ni ikimasen ka), your casual Japanese
for friends and family (e.g., bar e nomi
ni iku), your rough casual, which is what
I learned tonight, (e.g., bar e nomi ni iko
ze), and then the slang that young people
use, which I have no idea about. Even these
examples, sad to say, probably have some
mistakes in them.
Anyhow, I guess that you can't beat the combination
of beer and language lessons. Where else
are you going to learn street talk if not
in a bar?
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Although I love the tact and harmonious sensibilities
of the Japanese, one big downside to their
avoid-conflict-at-all-costs attitude is that
their cops are useless, ineffectual, street-corner
decorations. This has long been a grievance
Don't get me wrong, they're nice people on
a personal level, and they're very professional,
but police culture here is definitely lacking.
Add to that the fact that their system is
intrinsically sexist and racist (like a lot
of things here) and you get a foul mixture
of incompetence and indifference.
This subject came to mind because of a story that I read in the Japan Times yesterday about a foreign woman trying to
get child support payments from her child's
deadbeat dad. Here's a classic quote from
a letter than she received from her lawyer:
Dear Ms. Lankester,
1. Japanese police refrain from being involved
in civil disputes, therefore visiting the
police will not work.
2. If Mr. X does not obey the court judgment,
you will be able to attach his assets through
the court's enforcement officer. However,
it is not likely he will pay it voluntarily.
3. If he does not, then see 1. above.
I have my own stories of police incompetence,
let me tell you one.
When I first came to Japan I taught English,
and I had this one student named Megumi who
had some serious problems with her neighbour.
Megumi was a pretty girl in her mid-twenties,
and she had just moved out of her parents'
house into her own apartment. This was a
big move for her, into her own place, because
it was so expensive and difficult to do.
She was proud of herself for getting out
of her parents' house while still so young,
and she was reveling in her new independence.
Megumi's new neighbour was a crazy, belligerent,
old asshole with only one leg. He would stay
up all hours of the night hobbling around
his room screaming at the walls. When his
neighbours complained he threatened to kill
them. He started to pick on Megumi for some
reason. He would do things like throw her
laundry out into the street.
She complained to the landlord, who then
went to have a talk with the neighbour. The
old man started yelling at the landlord,
telling him to fuck off, and then said that
he was part of the yakuza (mob), which was obviously bullshit, and
that there was nothing that the landlord
could do about it. The landlord shrugged
his shoulders and did exactly that: nothing.
Finally Megumi called the cops and told them
about how the neighbour was threatening to
kill everyone and was throwing her stuff
out into the street. So the cops came over
and gave Megumi some advice. Do you know
what they said? "You should move."
That's right. I'm not making this up. They
didn't even go and talk to the old asshole.
Basically, they just wanted to avoid a confrontation,
and she was a young woman and he was a man.
So, she did move; back to her parents
It was a real disappointment for her,
to mention a huge expense. She felt
she had failed out in the real world.
I could tell you other tales of police incompetence,
but I'll save them for another day. Tact
is one thing -- running away from problems
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July 24th was my son Jack's birthday, he
turned two. Unfortunately, he's still on
vacation in Canada with his mom, and I'm
back in Japan, so I missed the party.
I love being a dad, though I'm glad that
I waited until I was almost 30. I never really
understood exuberant, bursting love until
I became a dad; I never really understood
my own parents until I became a dad; and
I never thought that anything could remove
me from the centre of the universe until
I became a dad.
Thanks Jack. Happy birthday.